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05/18/2014 09:15 EDT | Updated 07/18/2014 05:59 EDT

When Depression Sucks Back Every Breath You Take

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This is for those of us who battle mental illness. This is for those of us who are sick and tired of being told to "snap out of it," "just go for a walk you'll feel better," "don't even bother with medication, it doesn't work," or "you don't want your kids to see you like this."

I suspect this post will be read and understood by those of us who already live this, but my hope is that if I can change the perspective of even one person who didn't comprehend the debilitating aspects of mental health disorders before reading this, then all of us who already do know, will be winners.

Depression doesn't decide when it will attack. It sits on your head, an ever-looming presence, watching you go about your day. Sometimes, it can sit there for so long, you will forget it's there. You will start making plans for yourself; glorious, luxurious, productive plans. Because you've felt energetic for three days now. Anxiety has not punched your heart so hard that you sat motionless, breathless, waiting for the irregular beats to stop bounding from your chest. You actually believe you're healthy. You've got this. Finally.

So you decide that now is a good time to repaint the living room. You've wanted to do this since last May, but depression had forbidden you from moving from your bed. You buy your paint, the supplies; you prepare the area. Tomorrow you will redecorate; add splashes of colour to your life; brighten up those walls in hopes that the lustre will be a reminder that your mood can be shiny like them.

You awaken the next day. Depression is no longer perched atop your head. It has moved inside your brain, where like a dementor, it is sucking in every breath you take. Like a rag doll, you remain inert. You don't remember or care that the furniture in your living room has been moved around to make room for paint cans, brushes, and drop sheets.

You look up at the clock and it's 2 p.m. You aren't hungry, but your mouth is dry. Slumping into the kitchen, you see that your 10-year-old son has left three red ribbons on the counter top. Beside them is a note that says, "I won first place in three track and field events." You close your eyes while the tears well up. That's right. You were supposed to go watch him run his races.

You were supposed to be here when he returned at lunch time. But instead you lost a fight in which all you wanted to do was put one foot on the floor and put on a bathrobe. But depression was sitting on the bedside, and every time you attempted to get up, it wrapped a plastic bag around your head so that you couldn't breathe; so that drawing breath was impossible. When you were sufficiently beaten, depression removed the plastic bag, and gleefully awaited your next escape.

Depression is beside you as you read the note; as you realize you've failed at motherhood yet again. Depression is telling you that you're shitty anyway, so why should you be any better at this parenting gig? It won't stop chanting. It continues singing in a loud, screeching voice so that it will reinforce your belief that you suck at everything. Especially at being a mother. At everything. "Everybody hates you," it is telling you. "Your family doesn't give a shit about you," it says. They think you're making this up, it snickers. "You're just looking for attention," it cackles.

Sobs pull you onto the floor where you curl up into a tiny ball. Depression knows you so well. It's right. Everyone thinks you're crazy. Everybody finds you annoying. You're supposed to work tonight but you're going to call in sick because depression has its foot on your gut while you're splayed out beside the kitchen table; defeated by the immensity of the boot that has kicked you down so many times, your tailbone hurts when you try to walk upright.

With a groan of pain, you roll onto all fours, and crawl away, one knee shifting slowly while the other waits for its turn. You do make it back into your bed, and gratefully, you pull the pillow over your head where your screams of despair won't be heard. In the past, before you started taking antidepressants, Depression would have been handing you full bottles of pills to swallow or a razor blade. It would have been taunting you, telling you to cross the street "Right now! There's a semi coming! Cross right now!!"

Your psychiatrist is right though: Depression is going to be hard to beat, but the medication will hold it at bay; will take away some of its power. Not all of it, but some. Medication will take the edge of the pain off, like an epidural during labour.

Depression is laughing. Because it knows that the mess in the living room, the paint cans, the brushes and the drop sheets will be there for a while.

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